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Title: The mechanics and dynamics of cancer cells sensing noisy 3D contact guidance

Contact guidance is a major physical cue that modulates cancer cell morphology and motility, and is directly linked to the prognosis of cancer patients. Under physiological conditions, particularly in the three-dimensional (3D) extracellular matrix (ECM), the disordered assembly of fibers presents a complex directional bias to the cells. It is unclear how cancer cells respond to these noncoherent contact guidance cues. Here we combine quantitative experiments, theoretical analysis, and computational modeling to study the morphological and migrational responses of breast cancer cells to 3D collagen ECM with varying degrees of fiber alignment. We quantify the strength of contact guidance using directional coherence of ECM fibers, and find that stronger contact guidance causes cells to polarize more strongly along the principal direction of the fibers. Interestingly, sensitivity to contact guidance is positively correlated with cell aspect ratio, with elongated cells responding more strongly to ECM alignment than rounded cells. Both experiments and simulations show that cell–ECM adhesions and actomyosin contractility modulate cell responses to contact guidance by inducing a population shift between rounded and elongated cells. We also find that cells rapidly change their morphology when navigating the ECM, and that ECM fiber coherence modulates cell transition rates between different morphological phenotypes. Taken together, we find that subcellular processes that integrate conflicting mechanical cues determine cell morphology, which predicts the polarization and migration dynamics of cancer cells in 3D ECM.

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Award ID(s):
2019745 1844627
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Article No. e2024780118
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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